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By the 8th century BC, Greece had passed through her "Dark Age" and had re-emerged a strong force. Colonies burgeoned northeastward towards the Black Sea and westward to Sicily and Southern Italy. Homer was active in Ionia during this time. No authentic biography can be attached to him, except that he is said to have composed both The Iliad and The Odyssey. He was supposed to have been an "aoidos," a singer, for the age of true literacy was still to come.
Accurate and complete works of Homer took a long time to be produced, and not for several generations did anything like an official text exist. As there was not a reading public, Homer's poems were learned by heart by boys at school. The texts owned by cultivated Athenians in the 5th century BC were merely memory aides, rather than versions to be continuously studied.
Some critics consider it unlikely that the same man wrote both The Odyssey and The Iliad, or that either is the work of a single poet. It is most likely that both poems combined and remodeled earlier poems, which were in turn enlarged and remodeled by others. Of the two poems, The Odyssey has a closer structural unity and is generally held to consist of a substantial core poem with some later additions. The 3rd century Greek scholar Longinus believed that both these poems were composed by the same author and that the discrepancies that do exist between the two can conceivably by ascribed either to a difference of kind established by tradition or to the difference of outlook and temper which a single poet may develop with the advance of years. Whether the reader chooses to believe that these are indeed Homer's works or not, the fact remains that they possess the qualities which are essential to great poetry.
Homer occupied a central position in the culture of ancient Greece. His works provided everyone's elementary education. His reputation as the greatest poet of antiquity survived even in the Latin West, where his works were mostly unknown. The humanists in the 15th century were eager to study The Iliad, but when they obtained copies, they were disappointed by its realism and directness. The study of Homer stagnated, and no serious interest was shown in his work until Hobbes' and Dryden's attempts at translation towards the end of the 17th century.
The most widely read English translations in the 20th century are those of E. V. Rieu. His prose version of The Odyssey was the first Penguin Classic in 1946. There have been several attempts at verse too, including those of Richmond Lattimore (1965-67).